Surviving Beltane for the Solitary Pagan

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Today is October 31st, and in the Southern Hemisphere many witches celebrate Beltane. Spring has well and truly sprung and Summer is making it’s presence felt. Traditionally, Beltane is a pretty important sabbat as it is one of the two times on the Wheel of the Year that the veil is at it’s thinnest (the other, of course, being Samhain). The exact date of Beltane falls halfway between the equinox and the soltice- this year, on November 7th-8th. Covens and solitary practitioners celebrate it at varying times.

If you’re not able to celebrate it with a coven or a ‘special someone’, Beltane can potentially be depressing. What if you are single, or a solitary witch without the bonds of coven sisterhood/brotherhood to give you a little lift? I know, I’ve been there!

The thing is, you might think Beltane is for lovers. Traditionally it is a fertility festival, celebrated with couples copulating on fields and merry skyclad dancing around bonfires. The maypole is a famed symbol of Beltane with distinct phallic connotations. For a single neo-pagan it might be a cause a little angst, but I’m here to argue it needn’t be! Here are my tips for single witches on Beltane;

  • Flowers! Beltane should be a flower-filled festival so go into your garden and see what’s up. Pick some flowers to put in a vase or on your altar. They can instantly lighten up a room, and your mood. If you are flower-deprived, you could by yourself a bunch of flowers or a pot of colour from your local nursery.
  • Watch out for faeries! The veil is at it’s thinnest this time of year and Beltane is reknowned for faery sightings. You can honour the fae with an offering inside your home or your garden to keep them appeased.
  • Alternatively, you can do a fairy meditation to get you in touch with your inner fae. Or look up your favourite faery artists and enjoy their work- Brian Froud is one of my very favourites. Research fairy tales, especially the darker, older ones.
  • Make a pair of faery wings! This is my favourite tutorial courtesy of Emilie Autumn. Be inspired on what the fae energy can offer you!
  • Treat yourself. When I was single I co-opted Valentine’s Day as ‘Single’s Awareness Day’ and I do the same sorts of things for Beltane. Single or not, a little self-love NEVER goes out of fashion. Beltane has a distinct love-themed flavour so you should do nice things for yourself. Bake chocolate goodies, enjoy a nice glass of wine, buy a beautiful punnet of in-season strawberries, or run a bubble bath and soak. To make your bubble bath extra special, add rose petals or essential oils. Play yourself some romantic music- whatever you choose- and drift. Lush is my favourite store for bath-time treats.
  • Beltane is a fire festival so light some candles and practice some candle meditation. Focus on the flames and the way they dance or waver. Every time a distracting thought enters your mind, imagine the flame burning it away into a puff of smoke.
  • You could even try a bit of divination with flames, known as Pyromancy. As the veil is very thin, it is a perfect time for divination! Still your mind and observe the flames and see if you can interpret shapes, symbols, faces or letters. Write them in your journal. Our coven practiced wax divination during Imbolc, and even though our interpretations made no sense at the time, when I looked over my journal notes I noticed how all of the odd symbols, characters and signs that we observed in my lump of wax actually did come to pass for me! The moral of this story is- always write your divinations down, as what might seem nonsense may make sense later on.
  • Start your own mirror book, if you don’t have one. Find a journal or diary and decorate the front page or cover with images that resonate with you. Consecrate it in a small ritual and use it to write divinations, dreams, meditations or journeys.
  • For a bit of fun, watch witchy documentaries and video blogs on Youtube. Ethony linked us to this one today. Take or leave what you view with a grain of salt though!

That’s it! If you can think of anything else to add for solitary pagans on Beltane, be sure to comment with your ideas!

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The Balance of the Spring Equinox

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Lee's Outdoor Altar in Spring

Lee's Outdoor Altar in Spring

The Earth renews herself with much vigour come the dawning of the Spring Equinox, when the night and day are at equal lengths, and the Spring rains bring much needed refreshment and renewal as we emerge out of Winter. After a week of rain here in Perth, today the sun came out for a beautiful Spring day, just in time.

It is an important time, as the air is zinging with potential and anticipation. It’s a wonderful time to stop a smell the roses- literally if you have any early Spring buds- and if you’re taking a look you’ll notice that nature is certainly moving. Flowers are out in abundance, and if you can, a fantastic Spring activity is to enjoy the local wildflowers (which Western Australia has in abundance) or look into your own garden, if you’re lucky to have one, and notice the colourful changes. Unfortunately it does mean that I have to mow my lawn more often as the days get longer! Baby animals are in abundance too, and things start getting a little more frisky. It is also a really good time to shake off those WInter cobwebs and do a little Spring cleaning!

According to the six seasons of the Noongar people, our ideas about the Western Spring Equinox are echoed in their season of Djilba, which is represented by the colours pink and purple; and heralds the growth of wildflowers and plants following the replenishing rains.

We will celebrate Ostara, as denoted on the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, with an outdoor ritual in the hills followed by a picnic. In our ritual, we will go back to nature and use our energies to send healing back to the land. The equinox is about balance- we will do our small part to help restore the energies of this balance back to the land we tread upon. We will also use the balancing energies to help restore peace and equilibrium to our lives.

May the balance of the Equinox bring balance to your life!

How to Find a Coven

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At some point in the seeker’s journey it might be that you decide you are ready to join a coven. This is a decision that needs to be taken seriously. The bonds between members of a coven are akin to the bonds of family, and you will be expected to embark on a path of study and learning that requires a certain amount of commitment. If you’re sure that a coven is for you, the next problem is- finding a coven! This can be SO HARD for a seeker, especially if you are new to the pagan community near you. So how should you go about finding the coven of your witchy dreams?

Where do I look?

First of all, tap into the local pagan community, and attend some of the public events that are open to coven members, general magical practitioners and solitaries alike. This is not always possible if you live in a remote area, but you might be surprised just what might be going on in your local town. Look online for email groups, social clubs or Facebook groups for local meetings. In Australia, social pagan circles host events such as Pagans in the Park, Pagans in the Pub, and there are open circles held in almost every state. You will find that pagans are very welcoming people and you will quickly make some friends that should be able to give you the heads up on any covens who are currently accepting seekers. Of course, if large social gatherings are not your forté, you could try asking at local new age or pagan supply stores if they have any knowledge. Real life contact is generally a good start- you might find that pagans are sometimes slippery to pin down using modern conveniences like email (we’re not all tech-savvy!)

The biggest obstacle will be finding a coven that fits. And if you do, hoping they are welcoming to new members! It is sometimes difficult to find groups as not all members will be out of the broom closet and it might be that their channels are fairly closed to the public. In addition, most groups only accept members into their ‘Outer Court’ at certain times. The Outer Court is a learning circle for uninitiated members of a circle who have committed to study but have not met requirements for the full commitment of ‘Inner Court’. Teaching resources (especially time) are limited and it is not always prudent for covens to be accepting new members all the time- most covens are tight-knit and the transience of having randoms popping in and out is not conducive to a well-functioning magical circle.

What to look for

Second of all, it is important to set your own personal standards in terms of what you want from the group. It is easy to be seduced by the aura of mystery a high priest or priestess can sometimes hold, but try to remember they are only human too and everyone has had to start somewhere. Do your research and have at least a few books and articles under your belt. The pagan path is not supposed to be a dogmatic religion, but at the same time try to be respectful as some covens can hold to particular traditions and ways of working which will need to be upheld. Keep in mind issues such as safety- Pagan Awareness Australia publishes a very useful pamphlet– and try to use some common sense when putting yourself in new situations. I’m not saying that there’s a bunch of kooky warlocks out there to steal your soul (or your money), but it’s important to keep in mind in any new social situation where trust is important. Speaking of money, you should not be asked to pay for your study, excepting a modest tithing fee or small donation to pay for tools that might be used- or tea, coffee & the like. Asking for money from seekers for study in a coven context is generally frowned upon in the pagan community. You have a right to ask questions and if you are stonewalled on issues you feel are important to you, remember you are free to walk away. Again, do your research and get a bit of a feel from the community at large on the group you are thinking of joining.

Some questions you should ask could include;

  • What is the tradition of the coven, or what are the main influences on their way of working?
  • What ethical or moral practices does the coven uphold?
  • Is there a structure for teaching and learning?
  • What would be expected of you as a seeker or member of their Outer Court?
  • How often does the coven meet, do they work skyclad, will there be cupcakes, etc! (also, no cupcakes? Total dealbreaker for me.)

What to expect

Once you find a group, it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind. It’s not all snowbunnies and frisky kittens in dew-drop land. On occasion, you will encounter personality clashes, your circumstances will change, or you will become time-poor and unable to commit. Or it might simply be that your spiritual path will change and the group will no longer be a fit for what you need, or want, in your life. It is a fact that pagan groups tend to be heavier on the female side of the gender binary ratio, however I strongly disagree gossip and drama goes hand-in-hand with gatherings of women. In social groups of ANY descript, you will encounter hierarchies, histories, and plots. If you discover these in your coven, try not to take anything personally, and again ask yourself: is this what you want? Is this conducive to your spiritual path? If it isn’t, get out.

Generally speaking, once a seeker has dedicated and has been accepted by their coven, many covens follow the traditional ‘year and a day’ precept for students of the Craft before they can be initiated. During that year you will hopefully learn many of the basics of witchcraft that are required for 1st degree initiation, via an assigned mentor or the leader of the group. It all sounds pretty prescribed and strict, but when you consider the trust and commitment that is implicit in a well-oiled magical circle (and we do like our oils), it makes sense that members have jumped the appropriate hoops to prove their ‘worth’. Keep in mind, not every coven follows this structure, although many do.

As part of a coven, you will possibly be expected to attend events and workshops as per the coven’s usual routine. This could include esbats (lunar rituals) or sabbats (solar festivals), workshops, healing circles, study groups… the list goes on. Some covens meet a handful of times a year, and others every week.

The path of the witch is supposed to be one of personal responsibility and ownership. To be a member of a coven is not to be a lackey who does someone else’s bidding, but rather a member of a group that facilitates workings that are for the good of all.

On the other side

Working in a coven is an amazing experience that can add ten-fold to your spiritual journey. Being a solitary witch has it’s charms, but working in a circle offers many opportunities. They do say the teacher will appear when the student is ready, and as clichéd as it is, it does ring true. If all else fails, a little spell to help ease the flow of networks and connections can’t go astray!

Imbolc Blessings & Bliss Balls Recipe

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Our Imbolc ritual & celebration was marked by a candlelit dinner, a hearty vegan Irish stew, candle scrying, and lots of replenishing rains. Our incense was comprised of wattle, lavender and lemongrass. There is a nice link on celebrating Imbolc in the Southern Hemisphere here.

Imbolc Raw Bliss Balls

This recipe is raw and vegan. Bliss balls are awesome because they give you  sweet hit, and like most raw food, they are healthy and absolutely sing in your mouth!

Ingredients (approx):
10 x Meejool dates (soaked for 5 – 10 hours to soften)
2 cups raw cashews
1 cup sunflower seeds
handfull of sultanas
handfull of goji berries
2 Tbsp Agave Nectar
2 Tbsp Water
2 Tbsp raw Cocoa Powder
sprinkle of salt

Directions

Blend all the nuts, fruit, cocoa powder and salt in food processor until sticky.  Add water, agave nectar as required (they will help hold the balls together).  Roll into teaspoon sized balls – wet hands are helpful – then roll in cocoa powder or dessicated coconut.

When rolling charge the mix with your intent.

Thanks to Amanda for the recipe, and rolling us all those balls last night 🙂

Outer Court Openings – Preliminary Seeker Study

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The Sacred Circle of the Inner Flame (SCOTIF) is a progressive witchcraft coven based  in Western Australia. We are currently accepting expressions of interest for Outer Court study, in the form of a preliminary online introductory course which will run for 6 weeks.  We are a small yet focused group, that has been established for five years. Our practice is  based on eclectic Wiccan principles and we are active within the local Perth pagan  community. Only serious seekers need apply!  To find out more, please visit our website at scotif.wordpress.com Or contact Ethony at covenscotif@gmail.com before August 31, 2011.

After many informal expressions of interest, we’ve decided to open our coven up to the community for the first time and accept expressions of interest from Seekers who are interested in joining us. Currently we are running a Seeker Study Course for the first 6 weeks which will be purely online. Upon completion of the 6 weeks of course materials, if you are a fit for the group you will be invited to complete the 12 weeks as per our Seeker training which forms a beginning to joining our Outer Court. We are a ‘real life’ coven and while the first 6 weeks will be online, you will need to be in the vicinity of Perth and her surrounds in order to participate in our circle.

To learn more about Seeker study click here or contact us at covenscotif@gmail.com. Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you’re interested in joining us! The course will run after August 31.

You can always ‘like’ us on Facebook if you’d like to quietly cyberstalk us instead!

Combined Covens Spring Camp 2011

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Spots are booking up fast, so if you plan to attend the Spring Camp run by Combined Covens Social Club in Perth, Western Australia, you better get in quick!

Spring Camp is a great opportunity for the pagan community in WA to meet, learn, talk, feast & share! This year’s camp should be a cracking good one. The 10th inaugral-ish camp will be held on the Queens Birthday long weekend on the 28th – 30th October in 2011.

The witches of SCOTIF will be at large and running several workshops, including Tarot Talk with Ethony, Ritual Food Elemental Style by Amanda, Yoga & Witchcraft by Teneal, and a lecture on Deity in Popular Culture by Lee.

Solitaries are welcome and everyone is super friendly. If you can’t make the whole weekend, the camp is open to the public for a fete on the Sunday for a day of frolicking and fun! Click on the flyers below for more information.


Witchcraft and Wicca Books for Beginners and Beyond

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If you are a student of the craft, there is no such thing as too many books. Whether you are an Amazon addict like myself and have a ridiculous compulsion to window shop online, or if you are a stalwart library card holder- something that seems to be in common amongst those on a spiritual path is a thirst for knowledge.

But if you are new to paganism, witchcraft or Wicca, where do you start? When I first started, I read everything I could get my hands on! If you are inclined, feel free to follow suit- but if time or budget is of the essence, I decided to compile a shortlist of good beginner’s books for seekers and I asked for a bit of help from the rest of our coven.

Before I begin with the list, though, there is something to keep in mind- just because something has been published into a real life book, doesn’t mean the information is well-researched and all authors hold some bias. I don’t believe in any ‘don’t-read’ texts though. Read as much as you can, then read some more.

 

Paganism: an Introduction to Earth-Centred Religions – Joyce & River Higginbotham: This book provides a very clear and succinct introduction to paganism and the varying branches of the spirituality. Including activities and meditations, this book is very balanced and unassuming of the reader. If you are looking for something that explains the absolute fundamentals, this book is an excellent must-read. It could even be a good text to give to loved ones to help them understand your spirituality.

Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft – Raymond Buckland: this is fondly called ‘Uncle Bucky’s Big Blue Book’ and is one of the texts we study in Outer Court. Ethony says; “While I believe that many of the practices in this book are outdated and are very classical Gardenarian Wicca (and I also think that Buckland thinks rather highly of himself by quoting himself in the text numerous times etc), this is a book that many people will reference and talk about. It gives you some great history and background in to the ever changing spiritualism that is Wicca, and there are some great lessons in the book with the workbook section worth completing as well.”

Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner – Scott Cunningham: Cunningham is a highly regarded pagan author and no list is complete without him. Many a young Wiclet has self-dedicated themselves to the Craft guided by Cunningham’s books. This is a little book packed with a lot of invaluable information on Wicca 101 for the beginner. By the time I got hold of it, I found it a little bit ‘been there, done that’, but as Ethony says, “Where would the Craft be without Cunningham?”

Book of Shadows by Phyllis Curott and Witch: A Personal Journey by Fiona Horne: As Gaiamara says, these “worked for me because there was a large element of biographical connection; the authors were walking their talk. I find that very important”. I definitely agree. What’s great about these books which are both the story of how each woman found themselves with a connection to the craft. Phyllis Curott went from an Ivy League lawyer to someone who undergoes a spiritual awakening in New York, whereas Fiona Horne is Australia’s most famous witch whose origins were as the lead singer of a 90’s rock band. The stories are rich with imagery and quite engrossing; due to their autobiographical content the texts are easy to read and you are swept into each woman’s journey. There is a slight bubblegum element to both books though, but I think they make for fun reading. I don’t know anyone who didn’t enjoy these. As Ethony says on Curott; “as long as you take some of the dramatic stuff in it with a grain of salt, we do not know how many people died in the burning times and I feel at time it is over dramatized. But it is beautifully written and stirs the magick and mystery we all feel when we start to hear the Goddess’ Call”.

The Inner Temple of Witchcraft – Christopher Penczak: Penczak’s Temple series is fantastic and give an excellent structure for study on the Craft. Even if you’ve been studying the Craft for some time, his texts are clear, in-depth and balanced. Ethony says “he goes into great detail about the links of science and magick (which a lot of books miss out on), and the text has timelines and very good meditations which is a huge part of Wicca and the Craft. I recommend getting the CDs as well, because the guided meditations make life so much easier and they are very well done. His series is one of my favourites, fresh new view with very good foundation of information.”

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wicca and Witchcraft – Denise Zimmerman: Ethony says; “Don’t be fooled by the title. It is a well set out, easy to understand book with a layout which is not going to send you to sleep. I think this book has been well written and is a good beginners look at the Craft. ”

The Triumph of the Moon – Ronald Hutton: A thoroughly researched and well written historical account of witchcraft. This is the book you need to read to get the real facts on the ‘Old Religion’ and the shadowy figures in British history who began the witch cult movement, right up to the popularity of pagan witchcraft in the late 20th Century. It’s a scholarly text, but a facinating and essential read.

Drawing Down the Moon – Margot Adler: This is an oldie but a goodie, a very comprehensive and detailed account of the modern witchcraft movement; Adler tries to be quite objective and honest in her interviews and historical accounts. It’s worthwhile getting a hold of a recent edition to get a bit of the ‘where are they now’ as some of the information is now quite dated, but I’d still consider it a must-read if you want some perspective on how the resurgence of modern pagan spirituality developed.

The Spiral Dance – Starhawk: This is another influential, popular but slightly dated text, again very worthwhile getting a hold of the updated editions (which makes for a little wading through detailed appendices). Starhawk’s style is poetic and dense, with a lot of emphasis on the Goddess movement associated with 1970s feminism.

More recommended books:

Power of the Witch – Laurie Cabot
Wicca – Vivianne Crowley
Natural Witchcraft – Marian Green
A Witch Alone – Marian Green
Green Witchcraft – Ann Moura
Origins of Modern Witchcraft – Ann Moura
Spirited – Gede Parma
Apprentice to Power – Timothy Roderick
A Witches Bible – Janet & Stewart Farrar
Living Wicca – Scott Cunningham

Samhain Camping

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As the Wheel turns in the Southern Hemisphere into the dark half of the year, rains return the land to bring the green once more. It is a time to reflect and turn inward, and what better way to recharge one’s batteries than to detach from civilization and be immersed in nature?

A blessed Samhain was celebrated by us on the weekend with a camping trip in the bush. We stayed for two nights in a beautiful setting.

We’ve spoken about camping quite often in the past, this was the first time we have managed to follow it through! We were visited by many animal friends (in addition to the two doggies we brought with us). There were many birds, and even a very tame kangaroo that was not shy in their quest for human (and dog) food. Libations take a whole new meaning when your border collie familiar helps to bury them!

Ritual comprised of honouring the ancestors and those who have passed through the veil, and a labyrinth meditation with the Goddess Inanna. You can see one of our elemental markers in the foreground, which we painted during circle at Summer Solstice.

We feasted all weekend on nourishing and warm food. Feasting is very special to us and nothing is better than the hunger that the outdoors brings. It is great to share experiences like this with your coven sisters!

Easter for Southern Hemisphere Pagans

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The Goddess of Chocolate by Ilene Satala

During Midsummer I wrote about the challenge that can be presented by celebrating the Summer Solstice during the Christmas holidays. I thought it might be suitable to reflect on the Easter break and how to reconcile it as a pagan observing the Southern Hemisphere seasonal sabbats.

For most secular Australians, Easter presents no challenge at all. It’s a glorious extended long weekend with slightly cooler weather and lots of chocolate. The madness of retail outlets stocking hot cross buns and Easter bunnies in February is duly noted (“it happens earlier every year!” …well, they wouldn’t stock it if you didn’t buy it). Usually friends and family groups pitch a tent and ‘sink a lot of piss’ and the true meaning of Easter is perhaps ranted about by stalwarts writing their letters to the editor of the local rag.

The timing of Easter is decidedly pagan-flavoured, and for this very reason Easter celebrations are rejected by some Christian churches. Easter is observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox- this comes from the lunar-solar Jewish calendar. The timing perplexes many and has fallen particularly late this year, to clash with Anzac Day celebrations on the 25th of April. It is also well-known that many of the Easter customs, including the name on the festival- have pagan origins. The eggs, the bunnies, even the hot cross buns- most well educated people can tell you that these are all commercial appropriations of symbols that have origins in pagan spring festivals. Click here for an amusing yet very thorough and well-researched explanation of some of those origins!

Much is made of the Pagan Chocolate Goddess (may the fudge be with you) and if you are Discordian or just a casual worshipper, now is the time to gorge yourself on Her Delights. I’d like to remind pagans to gorge responsibly, however. More people are now aware of the horrors of the chocolate industry, particularly in West Africa where children are enslaved and forced into labour to harvest the ingredients of our indulgences. Fair trade chocolate is becoming more popular and more widely available. And let’s face it- the cheap chocolate is usually nasty tasting anyway.  All the milk in chocolate (and it’s accompanying ethical and health issues) can be happily avoided aswell- dark chocolate is the way to go for the lactose disinclined, and delicious chocolate can be made that’s raw, free trade and almost healthy- just the way the Aztecs and the Mayans liked it! The Mayan Goddess Ixcacao was an ancient goddess of fertility named for the precious and highly revered cacao bean.

Chocolate is the perfect soul food, and as the Wheel turns, what better way to honour the Goddess within than with a spicy hot chocolate?

Our group celebrated Mabon back in March- and we are now close to celebrating Samhain, which for us will fall on next weekend. It is a time to take stock & to turn inward and reflect on the year past. It is also a time to honour the dead- the timing of Anzac Day is suitable as it allows us to take a moment and reflect, and give thanks to those who made sacrifices in wars past- whatever you may think of war, I believe our military servicemen should be honoured still.

If you are lucky to have some time off, use this time to reflect. If you haven’t gathered your harvest yet, use this time to appreciate what you have, and what choices you are priveliged enough to make in your life. Rejoice in the things that give you pleasure!